Mbeki supporters booed in Polokwane

Ministers and aides in President Thabo Mbeki’s government were heckled by delegates on Sunday when the African National Congress opened a conference that could see Mbeki losing control over the party.

Some of the 4 000 delegates booed Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Essop Pahad, a top aide to Mbeki, as they arrived.

Supporters of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, who hopes to unseat Mbeki as leader of the party, were cheered, including ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlante.

‘If we are divided, what divides us?’

Meanwhile, Mbeki hit out against party members who used lies and dishonesty to achieve their goals.

Presenting his political report at the opening of the conference, Mbeki said that this was a challenge that had assumed a “higher profile” since the last conference in 2002.

“This is the practice that again is entirely foreign to our movement—the practice of using untruths, of resort[ing] to dishonest means and deceit to achieve particular goals,” he said.

Even in the most difficult years of the liberation struggle, the ANC had always refused to resort to “these means” to hide its reversals and difficulties, or to present a more optimistic picture than circumstances justified.

Mbeki also urged delegates to examine very carefully the claim that the ANC was divided.

“We must ask the question and discuss it frankly—if we are divided, what divides us?

“If we are divided, what should we do to address this challenge, given the naked truth that a divided ANC can never discharge its historic responsibilities to the masses of our people?”

He said he was convinced that the party would emerge from the conference more united than ever before.

ANC must set example

Meanwhile, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said the ruling party had a lot of work to do to set an example of reconciliation in its own ranks.

In a statement Zille said that while Sunday marked the opening week of Reconciliation Day and the closing week of International Human Rights Day, it was also the day the ANC would elect a new party leader.

“It is thus an appropriate moment to reflect on whether our society is drawing together around human rights as a living concept, and overcoming our history of race-based division,” she said.

Zille said in the battle between Mbeki and Zuma, Mbeki had been “poisonous and divisive” and had split the organisation into competing camps.

“As that conference in Polokwane begins in an atmosphere of factionalism and mud-slinging, it is obvious that the governing party has work to do in order to set an example of reconciliation in its own ranks,” she said.

She said the situation was “so bad” that it had spurred Frank Chikane, the director general in the president’s office to condemn the strange new crop of cadres who disgraced the party of Albert Luthuli, Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela.

He said the cadres were only interested in positions, power, patronage and access to resources and tenders.

“Human rights and the aspirations of our people have taken a back seat, while the ANC argues amongst itself with a bitterness seldom so publicly displayed between members of the same organisation.

“After the fury and the vitriol, it is hard to imagine how the ANC will again be able to achieve unity and common purpose amongst these opposing factions,” she said.

Zille said national reconciliation in the country was too often “trumped” by the ANC’s national democratic revolution which was in fact not democratic.

“Instead of creating opportunities for all South Africans, ‘transformation’ has become a fig leaf for promoting the interests of a small group with the right political connections.

“It has become just another form of exclusion that in many ways is holding back reconciliation,” said Zille.

She said the opposition party hoped the ANC would put their differences aside and make their choices for the leadership based on the good of the country and not the party.

“In the spirit of the Day of Reconciliation, it is vital that we reach out to each other and give life to the vision and ideals of our Constitution,” Zille said.

Leadership fight

Zuma, a populist who was fired by Mbeki after being linked to a corruption scandal, is going into the leadership vote with significant lead, having nearly doubled Mbeki in party branch nominations in the lead-up to the congress.

The 65-year-old Zuma also has been endorsed by the ANC’s women’s and youth leagues as well as by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which is in a formal governing alliance with the ANC.

Members of the South African Communist Party, also in the governing coalition, have thrown their support behind Zuma with many saying they believe he will reverse Mbeki’s centrist policies and tilt the country to the left.

Mbeki, who took over the party from Mandela in 1997 and then the country two years later, is running for a third term as ANC leader, a position that would give him a big say over who becomes the ANC presidential candidate in 2009.

The South African leader is barred by the country’s Constitution from seeking another term as state president. - Reuters, Sapa

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